The name ‘Guatemala’ originates from a word meaning ‘place of many trees’. Guatemala’s motto is the ‘Country of Eternal Spring’. The main language spoken in Guatemala today is Spanish. There are 21 other Mayan dialects spoken in Guatemala. Mysterious and often challenging, Central America’s most diverse country offers landscapes and experiences that have been captivating travelers for centuries.
Active souls tend to find their agenda very full once they get to Guatemala. Stunning trekking routes through the jungles and up volcanoes, world-class white-water rafting, miles of caves to explore, and what seems like a zip line strung between every two trees in the country are just the beginning. Like to take things up a notch? How about paragliding into a volcanic crater at Lago de Atitlán? Or scuba diving in the same place? You might even luck onto some good swell on the Pacific coast. Or you could just find a hammock and languidly consider your options. Your call.
With not even 2% of its landmass urbanized, it’s not surprising that Guatemala offers some superb natural scenery. National parks are few but impressive, particularly in the Petén region, and the lush canyons of the Río Dulce make for an unforgettable boat ride. The natural beauty of the volcano-ringed Lago de Atitlán has been captivating travelers for centuries, while the Verapaces are riddled with more caves than a spelunker could explore in a lifetime, and the swimming hole that launched a thousand postcards, Semuc Champey, just has to be seen to be believed.
The climate in the Central and Western Highlands is generally mild. It can get cool at night even in the summers, especially at the higher altitudes.
El Petén and the Pacific Coast are tropically hot and steamy.
It is difficult to travel in the more remote areas during the rainy season between mid-May and mid-October (into mid-November in the north).
The months of March and April are very hot especially in the low lying areas such as the Pacific coastal plain.
If you love coffee, you’ll be in good company in Guatemala. The country’s coffee is considered to be among the best in the world. But obviously, Guatemalans can’t sustain themselves entirely on caffeine. Other Guatemalan culture staples include corn and cornmeal, beans, fresh fruit and vegetables (especially mangos and papayas), rice, eggs, and cheese. Meat and fish are consumed in more affluent areas. Guatemalans eat three meals each day, with their largest meal at noon. Until recently, most businesses closed for two to three hours each day so workers could eat the mid-day meal with their families.
The basic food of the Maya consisted of corn, beans, squash, and, depending on the region, cassava (manioc), papaya, and plantains. Fishing and hunting also added to their diet. The beans of the cacao plant provided a cocoa drink that was primarily limited to the nobility. Modern-day Guatemalan cuisine is a mixture of Spanish and local dishes.
These include appetizers such as tamales de elote (corn cakes) and turkey soup; drinks made with rum, lime juice, and sugarcane and horchata (cold milk mixed with rice, cocoa, and cinnamon); and entrées such as chiles rellenos (stuffed peppers), rellenitos de plátano (mashed plantain with black beans), salpicón(chopped beef salad with cilantro and onions), arroz con pollo (rice with chicken), and Mayan chicken fricassee (chicken cooked in a pumpkin and sesame seed sauce with chopped almonds). Desserts include pompan(candied sweet papaya) and flan.
Some Fun Facts About Guatemala
- There are 21 Mayan languages (a language family spoken in Mesoamerica and northern Central America by at least 6 million Maya peoples) spoken in Guatemala. However, Spanish is their official language.
- The currency of Guatemala—Guatemalan Quetzal—is named after the beautiful Quetzal bird. In ancient Mayan times, the feathers of this bird were used as currency.
- One interesting fact about Guatemala is that Blue denim comes from the country!
- The instant coffee process was invented in Guatemala by George Washington, an inventor and businessman of Anglo-Belgian origin.
- Do you like chocolate bars? The first ever chocolate bar was also invented in Guatemala during the Mayan times.
- Guatemala’s Lake Atitlán is the deepest lake in Central America, with a maximum depth of about 340 meters. It is also regarded as the most beautiful lake in the world, serving as the
- country’s most important national and international tourist attraction.
- There are more than 30 volcanoes in Guatemala, out of which three are active.
- The longest civil war in the history of Latin America, which was fought between military governments, right-wing vigilante groups and leftist rebels lasted a good 36 years.